Humboldt Dump cleanup outlined

A new approach to cleaning up the Humboldt Road Burn Dump was outlined this week by city officials working to overcome vigorous community opposition to the project.

Under the new approach, the city would move in a step-by-step fashion through a project that could lead to capping in place thousands of cubic yards of hazardous waste. The new approach is designed to alleviate public health concerns, meet state demands for a cleanup at the 157-acre burn dump and free up privately owned land for development.

The proposal is based on City Council recommendations made at the close of its Aug. 26 meeting and outlined in some detail in a Sept. 7 memo from City Manager Tom Lando.

In a Sept. 3 meeting with a dozen community members, Lando predicted there would be “fairly extraordinary measures” to control generation of lead-laden dust. Lando said the debate over what to do about the former burn dump has attracted attention that virtually ensures there will be a “relatively dust-free cleanup.”

Even if there is a community consensus, Lando warned, there are still a “number of things that could make this fall apart.”

Whether city leaders and private landowners can reach an agreement on cost-sharing is unclear. If the city doesn’t take steps to meet state deadlines, Lando predicted the lawsuits are “going to fly.”

The state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board has issued cleanup orders and wanted but failed to get some kind of project plan by Aug. 4.

The test for the new approach will come at an upcoming meeting, when council members again consider what to do. The project would begin with the removal of about 30,000 cubic yards of hazardous waste from Dead Horse Slough on property owned by developer Tom Fogarty.

That parcel was selected, Lando said, to serve as a test area because it’s located in the part of the dump farthest from the Stilson Canyon and Sierra Sunrise neighborhoods and the Hank Marsh Junior High School.

Some members of the now-defunct Humboldt Road Burn Dump citizens committee were non-committal at the meeting with Lando earlier this month, questioning whether the new approach would be safer than projects that have been under consideration before. Some believe the city should challenge the water board’s orders in court, arguing that an extensive and costly cleanup has been required largely because the land is slated for residential development.

But Lando proved reluctant to re-open that debate, insisting that the first step of the project would be followed by a public hearing. If the community isn’t satisfied, the city could “opt out” of further action and let the courts decide what should be done.

Lando’s memo says the city should prohibit single-family residential development and impose “other appropriate restrictions” on property that has housed hazardous waste. The memo also says deed restrictions—a way of controlling long-term land use—would be placed on land owned by the city “and to the extent possible for privately owned lands.”

The city owns only about 10 acres at the former burn dump. The dump was closed in 1965 but used for another 17 years. Contaminated dirt was moved around during city projects in the 1980s.

State water officials have favored a plan that would involve the construction and capping of a huge, single mound of hazardous waste to deal with their environmental concerns.

The single-mound approach has been furiously opposed by much of the community. Residents of fast-growing southeast Chico worry about the excavation of waste material and the estimated 50 pounds of lead that would be generated in the form of dust.